2 months of food: $1,200; Emergency-ready pantry: Priceless

The Coloradoan/June 9, 2006
By Kevin Darst

Loveland - In a cool, dry basement room, shelves full of canned food and hulking bags of flour and other staples act as Suzy Price's insurance policy.

It's a policy against a blizzard, flood, pandemic flu, even job loss.

"A couple of times a year, I'll come down and evaluate it and see what we've used," said Price, who is Mormon.

The Church of Latter-day Saints advocates what it calls "provident living," or self-reliance, to protect against disaster.

As federal, state and local health officials urge America to stockpile two weeks' to two months' worth of food, medical supplies and emergency items in case of a flu pandemic, perhaps one caused by the H5N1 strain of bird flu, experts say the public can learn from people like Price.

She didn't outfit herself and her family in a day or a week or a month. She amassed what she estimates to be at least a year and a half of food supply over the course of years, buying 10 cans of cream of mushroom soup when it was on sale or a couple extra jars of peanut butter when the price was too good to pass up.

She buys only items her family eats anyway - tuna, peanut butter, canned peaches, cereal - and uses the oldest ones before they go bad, then replaces those with fresher products.

The government's http://pandemicflu.gov Web site urges families to stock two weeks of emergency items. Others, including Larimer County’s chief health official, suggest two months of supplies.

Some say supply lines could be cut or slowed during a pandemic as workers and truckers get sick; others say grocery stores could remain stocked during a flu pandemic, but people might not want to risk going out.

But pinning down how much food a two-week or two-month supply really is can be tough. It can also be an expensive stockpile to create in one trip to the store, not to mention an improbable one if hordes of others are trying to do the same.

For a better idea of how much food a family would need for two weeks or two months and how much it would cost, the Coloradoan built a day’s worth of meals using only nonperishable food that could be prepared without water or heat. The result was a 1,800-calorie-per-day diet that includes snacks of peanut butter and Powerbars to generate enough calories.

The canned food and drinks in the Coloradoan’s diet would cost about $20 per day for a family of four, assuming an average of 1,800 calories per person.

That’s about $280 for two weeks, or $1,200 for two months, of canned or other food that needs no preparation.

That’s more than many families can afford, which is why experts recommend a little-by-little approach.

Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, director of the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, suggested families buy what they can, when they can. She compared the cost of stocking up to that of a family insurance policy.

“How much insurance do you want to buy for yourself and for your family?” she said.

Preparedness companies, including the Utah-based Nitro-Pak, offer emergency packs with enough food to last anywhere from three days to a year.

Nitro-Pak’s Ultimate-Pak Food Reserve, which the company says is enough food for four people for three months or one person for a year, costs about $4,000.

The company says there’s a three- to five-week delay on food orders because of bird flu worries.

Local officials say little help will come from federal or state agencies during a pandemic.

“Family preparedness, individual preparedness are the foundation for community preparation,” said Stephen Blois, director of Fort Collins Emergency Management.

“You don’t have to dump out the $1,200 to do it all at once. It’s like savings. You put a little in the bank and it adds up.”

With the thousands of dollars of canned food in Price’s basement, her most important investment might be in the one item the government also suggests not to get caught without — a can opener.

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